Who The Hell Is ‘Baksheesh’ And Why Does Everyone In Egypt Keep Mistaking Me For Him?

Orion and I spent 2.5 weeks traveling around Egypt in 2008. There were many parts that were memorable, the Egyptian people there were warm and friendly and genuinely welcoming. The police were terribly corrupt and the people who made their living off the tourists were positively terrible. It seemed like the scams in Egypt were endless, the Egyptian people after centuries of practice had perfected the art of extracting every last penny from every tourist who happened to wander into their country. For such an amazing country with so much to offer it was sad to see the dishonesty and the blatant corruption of many of the police, taxi drivers and many hotel owners. The ones that were honest really stood out as shining examples in a land of socially acceptable corruption.

Cairo was frenetic and totally insane, just crossing the street is more extreme than any extreme sport I have ever done. There is the standard dual pricing here for tourists which is endlessly frustrating and anything you want to do you have to haggle like crazy with the locals or they will charge you 5 times what stuff is worth. That gets old really fast but the Egyptian people are warm and friendly. Having Orion around really makes people even warmer and friendlier than they usually are.

Orion is holding up well, mostly, he has a bit of a cough and was sneezing last night but he has not gotten anything more serious so for that I am thankful. We’ve sailed across the Nile in a felucca, or small sailboat and rowed across the Nile in a very old crappy rowboat driven by a teenage boy with one blind eye. We rode across the desert on the back of a camel, which was by far Orion’s favorite part so far. We spent about 7 hours in a local minibus to go see the temples at Abu Simbel which were pretty amazing, but riding in the minibuses was even more amazing, there is an intense military presence here and you can tell that the army is used to dealing with insurgents. People are very religious here, mostly Muslim or Christian. The blacks are more Christian and the Arabs seem more oriented toward Muslim. Both seem very friendly and nice.

Everything here is oriented towards tourism. The people everywhere say

‘Hello, welcome to Egypt’

They say it in English in a very warm and very sincere way. The subways in Cairo were totally insane, they have separate cars for women and men and the women cars are far less crowded. The men cars can get so crowded that you are afraid that you will be crushed. Orion and I were on a subway car that was totally overcrowded and we had to try to get out at the next stop and were about 10 feet from the door and I told him

Hold onto my hand and don’t let go. We rushed to get out of the car and it was more than just a little scary. On the way out the door one of the Egyptians said to us

‘Hello, welcome to Egypt’

and laughed. I thought it was pretty funny. There are no tourists in the public transportation that we have seen, none in the minibuses or subways, I have to guess they all take the taxi. I can hardly blame them.

Everything here runs around tipping, and everyone expects a tip for anything that they do for you, which can be a little frustrating too. I keep reminding myself that these people are very poor and a dollar does not mean much to me but it means a lot to them.

Today we went to Elephant Island and walked through the Nubian villages which were very cool and reminded me of the way people probably lived thousands of years ago. No cars and only narrow paths to walk along with mud walls. There was some really amazing ruins that we spent a lot of time exploring and then we wandered around until we found the kid with the rowboat who we got to take us to the west bank to ride up to an abandoned monestary which Orion really liked exploring. We bought the game Dungeons and Dragons in NYC before we left and we’ve been playing it nonstop. Orion really like to make up pretend dungeons that are similar to the temples and tombs that we explore and we make things up as we go along. I have to limit the game playing time to 2 hours a night, but I think Orion would like it to be much more than that if he could. Things are so intense here, I forget what its like to travel in 3rd world countries until I’m traveling in 3rd world countries and then I often wonder why I don’t just travel more in my own country.

Orion was pretty sick yesterday with a fever. We took the taxi twice and a 3 hour train ride from Luxor to Aswan. He slept the whole way. He had a slight fever and was very tired so I stayed at the hotel all day. That was very hard to do because when I’m in a new place I get so excited and want to walk and see everything. I have walked about 1/10th as much as I usually walk on my trips and that has been difficult. I’m trying to be accommodating to Orion’s needs but it’s all a balance. If he had his way we’d just stay at the hotel the whole time.

Orion is feeling better, we went to see many things on the W bank of Luxor today, and it was a lot to do in one day. We got an organized tour with some other people from the hotel and it was a lot of fun, I tipped the guide way too much and now I’m feeling bad about it. I ran through the $600 I brought here really fast. I’ve been paying the taxi drivers 2x the going rate because I’m exhausted with haggling over every little thing.

When I travel I wish I was home and when I’m home I wish I were traveling. Seems like a no-win situation. There are several temples here that are simply astounding to be in. The place we are staying, the happy land hotel is one of the best budget hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

Sometimes I wonder why I am here and what I’m doing here. We went to see the Valley of the Kings and went into some of the amazing burial tombs but Orion had way more fun feeding the birds on the veranda. Orion really doesn’t care where he is, he is capable of having fun pretty much anywhere.

It’s 4:30PM now and he’s taking a nap because he was getting awfully grumpy. I hope he’s back to his usual cheerful self tomorrow.
Yesterday we went to a bunch of museums most of which were terribly boring and not really worth the price, the one Orion enjoyed the most was the mummification museum. There was a baby-mummified crocodile. There was a circus that Orion wanted to go to too so I bought tickets to that and it was really much more fun that I thought it would be.

The temple of Luxor is amazing, most of the people here are on big tours with big tour busses or coming in on big Nile cruises that cost hundreds of dollars. Seems like cheating to me. Some of the most fun moments I’ve had were helping locals unload cargo from the local ferryboat, which costs tourists $.20 to ride and locals $.02. I miss home and appreciate America a lot more when I am overseas.

We went to the west bank yesterday to the Valley of the Kings. It was an amazing trip with lots of great temples. Orion liked feeding the birds the best. It’s funny because I’m so interested in the fantastic archaeological achievements and Orion just wants to feed the birds. We’re done with Luxor and off tonight on an overnight bus to our new adventure to Dahab on the red sea. I’m looking forward to hitting the road again.

I tried to give Orion antibiotic last night and he threw up. He’s a real trooper. Its hard traveling to know what is the right thing to do but I really feel like if I relax and go with the flow everything will be fine.

I finally decided to catch the overnight bus to Dahab instead of trying to take the bus to the coast then the ferry, which costs $40 US. It’s so hard to know what to do, I ran out of money because I am totally way to generous and I tipped the guide and driver from yesterdays adventure 80lb. We had so much fun and I got carried away. I feel like its important to spread the wealth around and this is one of the easiest ways for me to do this. The problem is that I’m just too generous and I don’t bargain enough, which means I end up paying 2x as much as everything is worth. I still have not found a way to do this. Even in the grocery store you have to bargain for every thing you buy. It’s so totally inefficient and incredibly frustrating.

Orion is so happy no matter where we are. All he wants is to be with me, to talk to me and play games with me. It’s so hard being his father and his teacher and his best friend. I love him so much but he needs so much attention. When he is sick I worry about him constantly and the reality is that he is very resilient and can deal with much more than I give him credit for.

Dahab was totally amazing, I was on the fence about whether or not to do the 15 hr bus ride from Luxor but in the end I’m totally stoked that we went. We hung out with our friends for French Canada Felix and Veroni and had a great time. I would play with Orion on the beach while they snorkeled on the reef then we would trade-off and they would watch Orion while I snorkeled on the reef. There was tons of kiteboarders there and the wind was pretty fantastic a lot of the time. It was the off-season on the red sea so stuff was really cheap and people were really happy to have us buy stuff. The hotel room was only $4 a night and it even included hot water! You could walk for hours along the beach and there was plenty of really nice restaurants to eat at. Orion and I favored a small Thai restaurant that didn’t even have a sign.

The 2nd to last day in Egypt we rented a cab and ran around to all the sights in one day. It was totally exhausting and by the end of it Orion was pretty spent. The taxi driver scammed us with every scam in the book. I could not believe how dishonest he was. He took us to the wrong hotel, he took us to an expensive restaurant when all we wanted was street food then he took us to a camel ranch in Giza that tried to charge us 50x what it should have cost us. The worst part is I ended up renting a camel for Orion that cost 5x too much just because I didn’t want to deal with it. They bribed guards to get us in and bribed guards to get out and when I went to tip the guide I gave him 20 lbs (around $3) and he looked at me like I had taken a crap in his hand. He said ‘this is only 20 lbs’ so I took the money back then he blew a line of crap at me and wanted me to lie to his boss about tipping him. I gave up on him and asked him if his honesty was really worth that $3, then I gave him his tip back. It left an awful taste in my mouth and it would not have been so bad if so many of the people there had not been just like him and the taxi driver. It really left me wanting to travel more in the US and stop gallivanting all over the world with an 8-year-old in tow.

The next day I spent a whopping $.20 and went to the Cairo Zoo, which was totally fantastic. Sprung for another $.10 for some food for the birds and that was the highlight of the entire trip. For kids it there is no correlation between how much money you spend and how much fun they have. All in all Orion did have a good time that was my main goal and I only got scammed for around $100. Woe to the unseasoned travelers who finds themselves in Egypt. You should be prepared to kiss whatever money you bring with you goodbye.

Life is short, don’t waste the time that you are given. Be Well.

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